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Kurt Erickson: ‘Tis the season for drunk driving

policeWith the holiday season upon us, I wanted to take this opportunity to update you on Virginia’s 14th annual Checkpoint Strikeforce anti-drunk driving campaign in hopes that you would consider writing an editorial between now and New Year’s Eve focusing on the central tenet of this year’s campaign: the “beauty” of designated sober drivers.

Unlike past campaigns where the approach to reaching the target audience – male drivers in Virginia between the ages of 21 and 35 – has been more “stick” focused, this year we strategically decided to deploy more of a “carrot” method in using positive reinforcement and humor to deliver a message that, at the end of a great night, “nothing’s more beautiful than a safe ride home.”

Virginia’s 2015 Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign – supported by a grant from DMV, the Virginia Highway Safety Office to the Virginia-based nonprofit Washington Regional Alcohol Program – urges personal responsibility at the end of a night through messages that are broadcast on cable television, radio and social media. By the end of this month, the message will have aired more than 80,000 times on cable and radio stations across the Commonwealth. Additional messages are in Virginia retail outlets. (See the TV commercial here: .)

Another component of the campaign has been to publicly thank designated sober drivers around Virginia. Over the course of several weekends this fall, we deployed street teams to areas near popular restaurants in Arlington, Richmond and Virginia Beach to celebrate designated drivers, whether they be a cab, bus or ride share driver, or just a sober friend or family member. Our teams gave these “beautiful” people balloons, flowers and gift cards, then serenaded them with the lyrics to “You Are So Beautiful.” Click here to see a two minute video of some of the events we did around the state.

A survey this summer of 800 licensed male drivers ages 21-35 in Virginia and Maryland – the target audience for the Checkpoint Strikeforce campaign – found that 58 percent admitted to driving after having a few drinks or being driven by a driver who had a few drinks. The survey also disclosed that the most common way to “plan a safe ride home” was deciding on designated sober driver before heading out, but less than half (48 percent) frequently did so.

According to 2014 Virginia Traffic Crash Facts prepared by the DMV, the Virginia Highway Safety Office, nearly 36-percent of all of Virginia’s highway fatalities last year were alcohol-related. Over 40 percent of those killed in Virginia’s 2014 alcohol-related traffic crashes were ages 21-35.

While we are making progress toward reducing the number of drunk-driving deaths and crashes in Virginia, we thought the time was right to try a new, innovative way to reach young adult males with a solution-based message about drinking and driving. Simply put, all drunk driving incidents are completely preventable by simply designating a sober driver.

I appreciate all you and your paper have done through the years to support traffic safety efforts in Virginia. I hope that you will consider a holiday-timed editorial celebrating the “beauty” of the Commonwealth’s designated sober drivers.

Kurt Erickson is the president of the Washington Regional Alcohol Program, which helps publicize Checkpoint Strikeforce around the Commonwealth.

augusta free press
augusta free press